Brighton & Hove is filled to the brim with talented artists who we are keen to support. At Brighton i360, we often work with local photographers to capture images of our special events. One of those is Julia Claxton.
Swimming Through Lockdown – The Lodestar
I was delighted to be asked by Brighton i360 if I could do an exhibition featuring this iconic location. For Brightonians the Brighton i360 is a very Marmite thing – you either love it or hate it. I’ve always loved it, the way it brings a focal point to the skyline and how its shape, the ribs of the pod, echo and complement the shapes of the old West Pier. True, there can be something bereft about the landscape when the pod is down, but throughout lockdown it was parked almost constantly up in the air, which helped to maintain a feeling of positivity. It is like a lode star, a point to navigate by that marks a centre that is home.
During lockdown I cycled and swam as my daily exercise, and whether I cycled as far West as Shoreham Harbour or East to Rottingdean for my swims it would be there on the horizon. Having the pod up there through lockdown was in ways a mental as well as physical orientation for me, so it is fitting that the focus of this first Swimming Through Lockdown exhibition should be the BA i360 itself.
One of my earliest memories is of swimming with batfish in Aden. The sea has been both solace and joy throughout my life. When lockdown hit, being fortunate to live so close to the sea, I swam as my daily exercise, often cycling along the seafront to different spots for my daily dip. This, and circumnavigating Brighton Palace Pier and West Pier or going out to say hello to my old friend “Wes” (as I call the West Pier navigation buoy) helped to add some variety to life under lockdown.
We were blessed with really good weather that spring, and I was often early enough in the water to see the sun rise as I swam. The sense of peace and timelessness it gave, to quietly slip out into the sea’s cool gentle embrace and feel the warmth of the rising sun on my face, were perfect antidotes to the anxieties of lockdown. If the weather changed and the sea got a little feistier the rock and roll of the waves was equally therapeutic – it was only the worst of weather that kept me out of the water and I continued swimming whenever I could. Although the prom was often crowded with others out for exercise, the sea offered a safe social distance and haven, and still does.
I began taking my phone with me on my swims as although I was, in a sense, enjoying my enforced break from my work as a photographer, creating images is very much a part of the way I relate to the world and engage with others. Posting them on social media kept me connected with temporarily landlocked friends, who longed to be in the water, who, going by the comments, enjoyed sharing virtual swims through the images.
Throughout my creative life, I have loved using a panoramic format. For me, it challenges William Blake’s view in The Doors of Perception “Man has closed himself up until all he sees is as if thro’ narrow chinks in his cavern”. To turn and record almost everything around me, to have that sense of space and place – It felt like the perfect way to record my swims whilst we were all obliged to hunker down, for most of the day in our caverns, observing the world through digital chinks. It may be somewhat challenging to do this in the water with “just” an iPhone – keeping level through the exposure when there is any swell, the water being in almost constant movement even on the calmest days and the changing, often massive, differences in light from sunlit to shadowed areas. But the simplicity of having something small enough to tuck in my costume and swim easily with, with which I can create images that can give a real sense of what it is like to be in that space is vital. Having grown up in the days of film and often bulky equipment there is a wonderful freedom in using such a small and powerful piece of technology.
The series of pictures Julia has taken over the course of a year work seamlessly alongside the seaviews from our cafe. Pop in to our seaview cafe, i360 Cafe, to admire Julia’s pictures for yourself over a hot drink and delicious slice of cake!
A little bit more about Julia Claxton
- I grew up in:As Far East as Aden and as far West as California. My father was in the RAF so we moved around a lot. Although I’ve become more settled in recent years I still occasionally get itchy feet.
- Now I live in: I currently live in Brighton – Hove actually
- When I was a child I wanted to be: An architect or a photographer. In those days the only photography course available was a scientific rather than creative degree. I’m not a natural at technical subjects although if I have a creative problem to solve I can be quite dogged at mastering the technology. However, my failure at maths and technical drawing GCSEs put paid to my architectural career before it started.
- My first job was: A Pool Lifeguard
- My career was most influenced by: My career has been influenced by a lot of things. If I had to pick one thing that has had a big influence on my life and my career it would be the sense of “Otherness” I gained after the tent fire I got burned in when I was 9. It altered the way I looked, the way people looked at me and reacted to me, and the way I experienced and responded to the world around me.
- The best piece of advice I was given: I’m not great at taking advice. As a young girl a plastic surgeon who had been doing work on my scars said “You have beautiful eyes – you must make the most of them.” It is perhaps a typical way I deal with advice – as an artist and photographer I have made the most of my eyes, but not in the way he intended. Ok, so maybe I bat my eyelashes at people occasionally, but its not something I’ve relied on to get me through life!
- When I need inspiration I: Hmmm. Inspiration is seldom lacking. For me the most difficult part of creative work is after it is done, getting it out there. I’m not great at self marketing. I’d rather get in the sea or get on with the next project.
- I love what I do because: The word inspiration is rooted in spirit, divine influence, and nowhere am I more in touch with this than when creating. I love the paradox of photography – a small slice of intensely focused life that can reveal something beyond the moment of its inception. When I first started doing panoramas many years ago I was at the same time doing quite a lot of close up macro work. I wanted to convey that feeling of wonderment, of awe, that I get from being a part of this world, the intensity not only of seeing but of being. As William Blake put it: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.”
- I love Brighton & Hove because: Of its acceptance of diversity, its creative energy and buzz and the sanctuary of the downs and sea around it when I need some time out.